Beating the burn-out with a trip back to college

August 25, 2000

Sabbaticals may be well established in academia, but when it comes to business, a period away from everyday office pressures - though often welcome - can leave the company executive high and dry.

That is the view of John Wakeford, director of Lancaster University's school of independent studies, who has come up with a bright business idea that cashes in on his department's academic contacts and existing courses, while potentially revolutionising industry sabbaticals. Wakeford wants to offer companies tailor-made sabbaticals for their staff.

Many organisations, such as the John Lewis Partnership, provide sabbaticals as a reward for long service or to allow their executives time to reflect and gain a fresh perspective. Staff remain employed by the company but are given a few months of free time to study something that interests them and that, perhaps, is helpful to the company as well.

Replacing the need for busy executives to plough through prospectuses to find an appropriate course, Wakeford's plan is to offer a fast, personal advisory service and help them to construct an individual study programme.

"An organisation would telephone us and say they have a staff member who is interested in a particular topic," says Wakeford. "Because of our contacts we would probably be able to find a key person to be their supervisor or director of studies. They could do research or a course and if they wanted the period of study accredited, we could organise that for them too."

The university would charge a professional fee for the service, which could involve "buying in" a director of studies from another institution. It could also involve arranging access to experts or resources elsewhere in the UK or abroad.

Wakeford believes that his department is in a unique position to provide the service because it already offers tailor-made courses for students wanting to work outside traditional disciplines or those who have interests requiring an unconventional combination of courses.

For example, recent topics studied by undergraduates at the school have included "appraisal systems in a multinational company", "why women stay with violent partners", "disability equality" and "sex, lies and videotape".

One independent studies school student wrote her autobiography as part of a part-time degree.

The school has already held discussions with a police authority interested in designing a programme that would allow "burnt out" senior officers to step back and reflect on aspects of police work for a few months.

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